It’s Not Because You Don’t Deserve It
Fragrance is one of those small, beautiful things that can have a big effect on the way you feel and present yourself. The right perfume or eau de toilette can make you feel soothed and relaxed, ready to take on the boardroom or take command in the bedroom. But here’s the thing: The only person who should ever be selecting a new fragrance for you is you. (Though of course, once you find the bottle you love, feel free to make suggestions to potential gift-givers.) Here’s why.
Your Body Chemistry Is Unique
Perfume molecules react differently with an individual’s body chemistry and pH. A good friend once borrowed a spritz of my beloved Serge Lutens Santal de Mysore before an important night out and called me sobbing in the middle of dinner. Turns out the scent, which has a creamy, sandalwood take on me and always brings compliments, made her smell, in her words (and her date’s), like “cheap Indian takeout.”
It’s equally dangerous at the perfume counter. If your perfume purchaser is a man, he’s probably partial to sampling scents on those little paper strips, which gives you a fleeting idea of what the scent smells like — on paper. The counter salesperson may offer a wrist to sniff, but again, different person, different chemistry.
Every Perfume Has Different Phases
All good fragrances have top, middle and bottom notes. The top note is the first olfactory impact that hits you but evaporates quickly, like a sparkling citrus note. Within five to 10 minutes, the midnotes kick in, which are the “heart” of the perfume (like lily or rose), and develop over the next 45 minutes or so, when the basenotes emerge. Basenotes are heavier scents that anchor the fragrance (like wood or musk) and can develop on your skin for up to 24 hours. In order to truly understand a fragrance, you should monitor how it plays out and changes over the course of the day. Otherwise, it’s like basing your opinion of an ice cream sundae simply by the cherry on top. The obviously named Basenotes fragrance dictionary is a good resource that deconstructs the top, middle and bottom notes of thousands of fragrances.
Another good reason to “live” with a potential fragrance for a day is to be able to evaluate its staying power and sillage. Some fragrances are notorious for a short scent life (maybe a few hours), while sillage — French for “wake” — refers to how intensely the scent trails behind you. Obviously, you’ll need help evaluating a fragrance’s sillage, so if there’s no stranger yelling from across the street about how great you smell, ask your friends how overwhelming or subtle the scent seems to them.
Your Memories Are Yours
A well-meaning boyfriend once gave me freesia perfume for Valentine’s Day. Freesia? I wondered. It’s not like I had vases of the stuff perched around my apartment, and I never wore flowery perfume. It turned out that he was inspired by the pots of freesia his grandmother always had around when he went to visit her in England. Did I remind him of an English garden, or his grandmother? Awkward! (I ended up spraying it on the pillows when he stayed over, but never wore it out of the house).
Fortunately, Freesia Boy never pressured me to wear the stuff, but a gift of scent always comes with expectations — and if the fragrance doesn’t work for you, you won’t be happy wearing it out or fogging up your clothing with it. If you’re anticipating a romantic gift on the horizon, start dropping hints on lingerie: Even if it’s not your taste, it’ll never leave your bedroom!